Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Nevermind That Flesh Wound. How About a Nice Tea?

I've been hitting the book lately.  At least, the UK Highway Code.  Americans living in the UK have a year to drive on our US driver's license, but after the year, the party is over.  To continue the fun in our clown car, we'll need a full UK driving license. 

Getting a US license is a cakewalk compared to the rigors of UK licensure.  There's a theory test, and an accompanying hazard perception video where one sits at a touch screen and watches a scene, touching all the potential hazards that unfold.  If you pass this hurdle, you may proceed to the practical (driving test).  Most people take driving lessons, not to learn how to drive per se, but to learn how to pass this test. 

That said, I've been borrowing a friend's self-study CD, which includes a bank of actual exam questions.  See if you spot the same trend I do:

You arrive at the scene of a crash.  Soemone is bleeding badly from an arm wound.  There is nothing embedded in it.  What should you do?
1. Apply pressure over the wound and raise the arm.
2. Apply pressure over the wound and keep the arm down.
3. Dab the wound.
4. Get them a drink.

Now, consider this question:

You arrive at the scene of an accident.  It just happened and someone is injured.  Which three of the following should be given urgent priority?
1. Check their breathing is OK.
2. Clear their airway and keep it open.
3. Stop any severe bleeding.
4. Get them a warm drink.
5. Look for witnesses.
6. Take numbers of vehicles involved.

I suppose the first question's drink option could be interpreted as alcoholic and therefore appropriate for a Brit in distress, but I first inferred that this mystery drink of choice would be tea.  The examiners have dreamed up plausible and appealing English options for the multiple choice section, I see.  An American version might include "Call their personal injury attorney right away," so I am not at all offended by this more genteel option.  In fact, I can easily see an older injured person ignoring the blood and asking for an Earl Grey.  So much the better if there was a piece of cake involved.  And can I blame them?

I mentioned my amusement at the recurrent "tea option" to Chumley, who expressed no surprise whatsoever.  His exact comment was, "Claire!  Tea fixes everything!"  You'd think I'd have gotten it by now. 

I shall keep my faithful readers advised on my progress toward licensure.  And just in case, I'll keep a travel mug of tea at the ready when out motoring.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Getting Down With OAPs

In my relentless quest for beneficial daytime experiences, I decided to take a day off swimming my mile but wanted some form of exercise.  I have noted that a group of women I generally refer to as the gray-haired mafia completely book up a large number of the daytime exercise classes at our gym, but there was one opening left in this morning's aqua aerobics.  I know it is almost always booked full, so I hopped on the last slot.  An "OAP" is island lingo for Old Age Pensioner.  If you see them having tea and cake en masse in a particular venue, it generally bodes well for quality.  I applied the same analogy to aqua aerobics.

Former readers will know I am no stranger to aqua aerobics, having made the horrifying pink elephant discovery at a previous gym's version.  Apart from the urge to look away, that class itself was very good.  Just because aqua aerobics as an exercise genre is largely populated by older women does not mean the classes are feeble.  .

The instructor was a white-haired woman in reasonable shape.  Upon arrival, average age looked to be 60, but far worse was the sight of every one wearing a headband with little yellow ears attached.  I had forgotten that today is a nationwide fundraiser called Children in Need, which benefits the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London.  Their mascot is called Pudsey, and this group had taken the philanthropic spirit to a new and cheezy level.  I'm not much of a joiner when it comes to wearing hokey things - I used to struggle to put on my ID badge at work.  I also loathe hats, or anything on my head, for that matter.  But as I was the only one without ears, I succumbed to the groupthink and put a pair on.

The musical selection was a combination of remixed ABBA and every Beatles song ever written.  I didn't know it was possible to work "Eleanor Rigby" into a exercise mix, but I do now.  I very reluctantly participated, in half-gestures, when the entire class broke into "YMCA."  All in all, the class was pretty lame.  It was hard to justify going to the bother to change into a swimsuit and require a shower when I could have stayed home and learned to knit for the same calorie expenditure.  Regardless, I tried to make it as hard as possible for myself without getting too carried away and being branded "that young hooligan."  When the kegel exercises started, I knew this was pretty much a waterborne waste of time.

After class, I approached to gladly return my stupid sponge bear ears when the teacher approached me individually.  "Is this your first aqua aerobics class?" she inquired.  I immediately expected her to compliment my apparent aqua savant-ness, my perfect form, or suggest a higher intensity class.
"Oh, no," I replied.
"Well, the first rule of aqua aerobics is the gum.  Lose it!"
I was appalled, and mentally transported back to my elementary school library, where Mrs. Howsell  transformed sussing out the presence of chewing gum into a black art and issued ugly two-cent fines.  I stupidly stammered the truth - that I had forgotten it was in - but her bluntness was appalling.  I seethed and chomped even harder.  To think I had put on those stupid ears for this.  I was not thinking clearly enough to spit it out and offer it to her.

In hindsight, I don't regret my gum chewing.  I'm sure it produced my highest calorie burn of the hour.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Death by Rhubarb

Some people have irrational fears.  Some of these fears are stranger than others.  I am mostly paranoid of dogs.  Ages ago, a fellow co-worker of mine had Crock-Pot-O-Phobia, which is the fear of slow cookers.  This person would not only steer far away from Crock Pots at work potlucks, but shiver at the prospect of eating food that could have possibly been prepared in a Crock Pot.  She didn't seem to have the same phobia of electric skillets, however.  I did not probe her psyche further by taunting her with an electric wok or a fondue pot, but I assume the latter would set her off by its mere resemblance to a Crock Pot.  I called off  deeper analysis for lack of interest and made a mental note not to provoke emotional Chernobyl by bringing in my hot chilli-cheese dip in my Crockette, a Crock Pot's miniature cousin. 

I was having a snack in the kitchen some time back, when I offered Chumley a choice of yogurts.  To be fair, he won't touch my low-calorie ones, but instead prefers the Muller Fruit Corner, strawberry cheesecake variety if available.  In what I thought was an act of humanity, I felt like offering him all the choices available.  Our fridge contained several flavors, including rhubarb.  I did not expect what happened next.  Based on the gagging sounds, I wondered if administering the Heimlich was appropriate.  It turns out he was so perturbed at the mere thought of rhubarb, he sent himself into some sort of psychogenic epiglottal spasm.  All this for a vegetable. Based on that reaction and the glimmer of others at the mere mention of the word, we were not to speak of it again.

Rhubarb is a common flavor on the island, and lucky for me, I enjoy it.  But Chumley's extreme reaction would have been similar to what I would have done when presented with a puppy.  Had he been bitten by rhubarb as a child?  Forced to pick rhubarb in inhumane conditions?  Worked off college debt in a poorhouse that doubled as a rhubarb processing plant?  Try as I might to delve deeper, Chumley was clearly stalked by rhubarb for no apparent reason.  It was too bad, also.  I was planning on test driving a recipe for rhubarb fool.  Not only would I need epinephrine for him, but it would also give him a catchy little nickname to call me for a period no less than one week, if he could even say the word.  I would have to break up with rhubarb, or at least hide any food products it had "tainted" behind diet items in the refrigerator.  In case I ever needed Chumley repellant, I need only bind two rhubarb stalks together in a cross.  Could that be a new plot twist for the "Twilight" saga?

Just when I thought I had to stop seeing rhubarb, my birthday rolled around.  Chumley was a teenage gardener, and likes to dabble, so my presents were two peach trees and two rhubarb plants.  He even planted them for me, muttering something about how our estate (neighborhood) used to be gravel pits and he could see why.  What a guy.  I expected him to wear a clean suit, but garden gloves were adequate.  It's midway through November, and they plants are already leafing out.  I shall have to take my future rhubarb offerings to work, but for safety's sake, I'll leave my Crockette at home.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The English Excel at Remembrance

The Queen is on TV at Westminster Abbey at the moment to commemorate Armistice Day, which honors the end of World War I.  Today is also Veteran's Day in the States.  It doesn't quite have the pomp, but it is a national holiday, as my dad has the day off work.  England observes two minutes of silence at 11 a.m.... which I did.  Now I can tell you about the poppies, which came to symbolize the dead of World War I thanks to the poem, "In Flanders Fields."

People have been wearing little red, paper poppies since the middle of October, and most public places have a veteran selling them for the Royal British Legion, which is a charity that supports service personnel.  Chumley has purchased a number that I've found lying around the house.  Quite a few people out and about have been wearing them.  In fact, it would be a high crime to be seen without one if you happen to be a TV presenter.

Remembrance in general gets a bit more attention in Britain than in the U.S., which I find surprisingly refreshing.  It's made news that the last three WWI veterans living in the UK have passed away, at the ages of 108, 111, and 113.  The only British veteran left is 108 and living in Australia.  BBC is full of documentaries and programs that have a war theme.  An especially interesting one on at the moment is "Coal House at War", which takes three Welsh families and imposes the living conditions of 1944 England.  The children were carrying around little wooden boxes that I naively thought were lunch boxes, but instead they were gas masks.  A lady got fined 15 shillings for not adhering to the blackout laws.  Ouch.

I enjoy these reality shows instead of the brain rot-inducing likes of "Big Brother" and its progeny.  One of my all-time favorites was "Regency House Party," a Channel 4 series that aired on U.S. PBS in 2004.  It took eligible and prosperous young men, young women of means and without means, and assigned them a chaperone.  They also cast the roles of servants and head butler with modern people. The goal was for the chaperones to make a suitable match before a summer-long house party was over, but while adhering to the Regency rules of dating.  Call me nerdy, but I was riveted.  I even went home early from a date so I wouldn't miss an episode.  How can you go wrong with epidose synopses like these?  As the end of the party approaches old quarrels rise to surface and the chaperones fall out in spectacular style by throwing the fine china at each other.  My favorite part was when the estate hired a professional hermit to live in a hut on the property and scare people.  Genius.

In any event, I will be a bit sad to see the poppies put away, especially because they are lovely to see growing wild in the fields.  It's also nice to see such a universal respect for a worthy cause.

Monday, 9 November 2009

What Happened to This Guy?

This past week, I've been hearing the pop of the occasional backyard fireworks display in honor of Guy Fawkes Day (or Bonfire Night), which was Nov. 5.  It's an interesting holiday in that it celebrates the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a mercenary from York named Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido from his days fighting in Spain) was found on a tip in the cellars below Parliament with a smidge of gunpowder.  Maybe 36 barrels is more than a smidge. It seems the Catholic Guy and a dozen of his closest friends were tired of being put down by the Protestand Elizabeth I, and when her successor James I didn't really treat them any better, the thirteen decided that the best way of dealing with their disgruntledness was to torch Parliament altogether.  He was found thanks to a tip, and was ultimately hung, drawn, and quartered.  He managed to avoid maximum torture by taking a dive off the scaffold and breaking his neck early in the process, so he wouldn't survive the short hanging and being disemboweled alive.  How sensible. Every year at the opening of Parliament, there's a ceremonial check of the cellars just to rule out any explosives enthusiasts.

To those intrigued by turns of phrase, "guy" is an eponym - a word based on a real person.  Guy Fawkes was the original "guy."  The term "guy" used to carry more baggage than it does today.  In memory of the big boom that wasn't, children began to make and display grotesque effigies of Guy to burn on a bonfire.  In Britain, "guy" used to mean a man displaying odd dress or behavior, but the weirdo connotation was eventually lost.  Now they're burning effigies of Katie Price on their bonfires.  That's progress.

On Saturday evening, we drove by one of the largest bonfires I've seen in years, visible for at least a mile at night.  After getting worn out by thinking of the sheer number of hot dogs that fire would roast, I was trying to think of comparable celebrations. It's odd to declare a country-wide celebration dedicated to something that didn't happen.  The only failed plot in my recent memory was the attempt to blackmail David Letterman about sleeping with a number of his staff.  I'm sure to him, the mere foiling deserves a holiday.  Maybe he could bring a chiminea onstage and burn his little black book. He shouldn't get too enthused, though, or his wife could hang, draw, and quarter him for high treason.  It would get ratings, I think. 

Too bad for traditionalists - American Haloween seems to be edging out Guy.  I think I would prefer a gobstopper to a firecracker myself, but that's a matter between me and Weight Watchers.

Monday, 2 November 2009

A Teeny Halloweeny

If today is All Soul's day, I'm going to boldly declare that we are still within the "Halloween Trifecta" and answer an inquiry from one gentle reader:

So Claire, what do they do for our American pumpkin holiday over there across the pond?

Tread lightly, oh gentle reader, before stepping into a colonial quagmire!  I spied a provocative couple of words in your query, specifically our American. I'm afraid it is not ours to claim, but we have merely borrowed it, made it bigger, and loaded it with artificial flavors and preservatives. 

If you trust Wikipedia on the subject, then "[it is] more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain or Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)".[2] The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end".[2] A similar festival may have been held by the ancient Britons, corresponding to the Welsh festival of Calan Gaeaf (pronounced kalan-geyf). It is arguable that similar festivals may have been held at this time by all those people for whom Druids were the priesthood."  Those wacky Druids.  First Stonehenge, now this! 

I, too, didn't know quite what to expect, as this is my first Halloween here.  A park adjacent to our house was hosting fireworks, but that was to celebrate the upcoming Bonfire Night, which deserves a separate post once the true date rolls around.  I was able to confirm that in some parts, troops of kids in fancy dress (costumes) would be going door to door thanks to my new font of cultural enrichment, my weekly Weight Watchers meeting.

"So Claire, what will you be handing out to the trick or treaters?" the meeting leader suddenly asked me.  Since I had readily confessed to copious Cheetos consumption and still lost 5 pounds the previous week, I was an easy target.  My mind went blank.  Doh!  What was the correct answer?  Was this a trick question? I hated being wrong in class.  Must deflect with joke, I thought.  Quickly...

I spouted the first thing that came to mind.  "Six-packs and fried eggs?"

The cricket chirping silence was miserable.  I guess the Coneheads Halloween special on Saturday Night Live doesn't translate.  Ugh.

It was a safe bet that we wouldn't have many trick or treaters in our estate (neighborhood), as Chumley and I bring the average age down by about thirty years.  The most likely candidate would be our next door neighbor, who is 91.  Judging by the wafts of air coming from the house if I'm standing on her porch, her favorite treat would be a pack of smokes.  Being the childless killjoys that we are, Chumley suggested we go to dinner and a movie instead of cowering with the lights off, candy and cigarette-free.

For the record, I did bother to decorate this year with my pumpkin candy bowl (empty, thanks to WW), witch candle, realistic yet useless light-up plastic jack-o-lantern (it's got a US plug) and my miniature Halloween tree.  "It's festive!" I heard my decor-happy mother chant in my head.  I'm afraid Chumley has dragged me down a bit in festivity tolerance levels when it comes to trick or treaters.  I'm recalling the incident of Halloween 2006, when I held girlfriend status and happened to be on the phone with him during trick or treat prime time.  In the middle of the conversation, the usually mild Chumley bellowed into my ear:

"Piss off, you little scamps!"

I gasped with disgust.  "Look, you just can't treat the neighbor kids that way!"  This was a good time to take stock of our relationship.

"I gotta go, Claire."  Dead air.

He rang me back shortly, while I was already working on my "this just isn't working out" speech.  As loyal readers know, Chumley is tidy, and his comment was apparently provoked by the two giant racoons he spied dashing across his lawn, his garbage bag in their mouths.  Thank god.  It was too much to think such a young man could really be that crotchety.

As we drove to the restaurant, we spied a handful of lit jack-o-lanterns, and a few mobs of kids in costume going door-to-door.  We also saw an older group of girls, one in particular dressed as a tarty barmaid and drinking an unknown substance enthusiastically from a glass. It was barely 50F and she was mostly bare. 

"Look at that!  She's got a drink in her hand!" I mused aloud.  I'm still fascinated by the fact that public possession of alcohol is perfectly legal, for the most part.

"She would have needed a few drinks to wear that outfit," Chumley quipped.

True to their polite form, there was no aftermath to speak of around our parts.  No smashed pumpkins or egged houses.  In fact, Chumley reported that signs in the local shops said they would not be selling eggs or flour to children below a certain age in the leadup to Halloween.  It looks like the worst aftermath was the massive inconvenience for those pint-sized bakers out there.

Confidential to mom from the sugar junkie: Would you be so kind as to send candy corn in the next shipment?  I crave it, and it doesn't translate.  Another dissapointing discovery: candy apples are covered in hard, boiled sugar like giant, organic lollipops. I miss the caramel ones.  Speaking of caramel,  I also wonder how many Weight Watchers points are in the king size 100 Grand bar?  Too many to bother counting...